Baby Massage: The benefits, how it works and how you can do it at home

Research reveals that massage stimulates babies’ development in many different ways

Research reveals massage along with focussed soothing communication such as gently singing stimulates babies’ development in many different ways.  It is natural to hold, touch and cuddle babies and they instinctively and naturally respond to the stimulus and will immediately let you know what effect it is having and if they are enjoying it!
So what are the benefits of baby massage and how does it support healthy development? 
It has been widely recognised that massage directly aids in calming babies, soothing and reducing tension; it promotes sleep and also stimulates growth, aiding digestion, circulation, co-ordination and balance.
All babies, including premature babies, develop better if massaged regularly and if your baby is suffering from colic, gas and congestion or is having difficulty sleeping, massage can help relieve these conditions.
Massage works by reducing the stress hormone, cortisol, in the baby’s system which then reduces muscular tension and promotes relaxation.  A relaxed and content baby results in relaxed and content mums and dads too!
A soothing and reassuring tone of voice is also important when massaging your baby along with singing and talking as this activates your baby’s neural circuits. Massage time offers the perfect opportunity for you to sing nursery rhymes, chat with your baby and to understand and encourage their communication.
Make eye contact with your baby, paying careful attention to their reactions and their cues and touch your child in a safe and predictable way!  This helps your baby to connect with you during one to one time and to develop trust, acceptance and self-confidence as it builds attachment between the parent and baby and will strengthen the emotional bond.  This emotional security is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child!
If you want to try basic massage at home, then try the following steps:
  • Lay your baby down in a nappy on a comfortable safe surface at a time that isn’t just before/after feeding.
  • Preferably use edible oil (olive, rapeseed) or a non-scented massage oil suitable for babies and warm it in your hands
  • Show your baby your open hands and say something like ‘Would you like a massage now?’  Maybe softly sing a nursery rhyme to your baby in a soothing voice
  • Begin to stroke your baby’s legs from thighs down to the tips of the toes
  • Watch carefully how your baby reacts and stop and cuddle if your baby doesn’t like it!
  • Then move to the shoulders and gently stroke down the arm to the fingers
  • Gently circle the chest from centre out to shoulders
  • Turn your baby on his /her tummy and stroke from top of shoulders downwards
Start slowly with 5 minute massages and as you and your baby get more comfortable, massages can be longer but this is a great start! Once you begin to massage your baby, you will begin to understand how important the sense of touch is to both you and your baby and you will see the benefits for both of you.
It might also help if you could join an infant massage group near your home or have a few individual sessions with a trained baby massage teacher to teach you some useful routines for use with your baby.
Written by Dearbhala Cox Giffin- Early learning & development expert with Family Friendly HQ.
Dearbhala is Director of Childcare with Giraffe Childcare

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